James G. Wigmore, Forensic Toxicologist, Speaker, Author
What do the following people have in common?
  • Malcolm Lowry

  • Dylan Thomas

  • James Joyce

  • Flann O’Brien

  • Dorothy Parker

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • Eugene O’Neill

  • Ernest Hemingway

  • William Stryon

  • John Cheever

  • Jack Kerouac

  • Edward Munch

  • Willem De Kooning

  • Jason Pollack

  • Amedeo Modigliani

  • Hank Williams

  • Jim Morrison

Of course, they were all famous in their fields. The first 11 were writers, the next 4 were visual artists, and the last 2 were musicians.  They were all very creative but the common bond they shared was their misuse/abuse of alcohol. They also shared a belief that alcoholic excess was important to their art.

In a short article that I included in Wigmore on Alcohol as WOA61218:

BEVERIDGE, A. and G. YORSTON, “I Drink Therefore I Am.  Alcohol and Creativity”, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 92: 646-648, 1999 (19 references)

The authors explore, briefly, 3 main myths regarding alcohol and creativity and why so many artists have abused alcohol and felt it was essential to their craft.  They compare the romantic with the sober medical view of alcohol abuse.

1. Alcohol as an agent of mystical transport

Alcohol has frequently played an important part in religious ceremonies over the centuries and has become, to some, a way of being transported from the mundane world into a mystical experience.  In many novels the alcoholic is portrayed as an almost saint-like holy figure.

2.  Drinking as a means to distinguish you from the ordinary

Many artists like to think of themselves as special and extraordinary and not confined to social norms. By drinking to excess and displaying obnoxious drunken behaviour, they shock and distinguish themselves from the “little” people and demonstrate a lack of concern for their values.

3. The alcoholic artist as too sensitive for the world

In this myth, the artist is seen as too sensitive for the world and needs to numb themselves to cope with life.

Of course there is a downside to this alcoholic excess as the authors point out:

If one is struck by the large number of artists who drank to excess, one is also struck by the appalling personal and physical price they paid. Biographies reveal a grim catalogue of mental illness, physical disease, family breakdown, suicide and premature death. Artists have certainly been aware of the downside of drinking, indeed more artists seem to have produced their work while sober. Francis Bacon did his painting in the mornings before going to the pub and Charles Bukowski eventually gave up drinking to concentrate on his writing. In fact, most artists who have experimented with creating while under the influence of alcohol have concluded it hinders rather than aids the artistic process.

Alcohol as a Destroyer of Creativity

Beveridge and Yorston make a valid point that art and creativity require a lot of self-control and discipline, which alcohol excess destroys.  I remember watching an excellent documentary about John Lennon at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto several years ago.  It showed several music recording sessions.  At some of these recording session, John Lennon and the other musicians started drinking.  Rather than becoming more creative, the songs they recorded got worse and worse.  If fact, in support of Beveridge and Yorston’s exploration, at no sessions where drinking was involved was any useful music ever recorded.

Over 1,000,000 LinkedIn Connections!

And now on to something completely different. I just became aware that I have over 1,000,000 connections on LinkedIn. Over 2,780 first connections, 860,700 second connections and 185,900 group connections. Why do I share this with you? Because connecting with me on LinkedIn provides a different means of exploring the forensic toxicology of alcohol that goes beyond this blog. If you are interested in the fascinating science of alcohol toxicology, please be sure to connect with me on LinkedIn as well.